Tuesday, 27 November 2012

rivers of london

I'd seen Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch, in the bookshops, but it was Douglas asking if I'd read it, as it seemed my kind of book, that prompted me to get it from the library and read it. Fantasy novels set in London are attractive to me (this the sub-genre of fantasy detective novel), but I often shy away from them because I fear they will either be disapppointing or so good that I'd be bitter. This turned out to be the former.

It was an easy read, but I won't be reading the next one. It has one of the range of interesting premises - fantastic things going on in London that the general population is unaware of, this time through the angle of a Met officer being unexpectedly taken on as apprentice wizard into the now-two-man Met department responsible for crimes relating to magic, myth, supernatural and horror. The new apprentice - and his non-magical colleague - took the existence of this stuff, and his own magical ability, far too much in his stride; it felt incoherent and internally illogical, with so many different kinds of fantastic elements in the mix (although he spent quite a bit of time on the logic of how magic worked, there were lots of other areas that needed similar attention, and as it approached the end the logic behind the central crime story became completely incomprehensible to me), the tiny dept and the reluctant collusion and covering up of the rest of the Met.

But the thing that perhaps annoyed me the most was that one element of the cover illustration - which was an interesting map of central London - meant that I worked out a key element of the mystery of what was going on on p24, when without it I may not have got it until p158, and the big reveal is on p203. The blurb, usually the culprit in such cases of giving away too much on the cover, was blameless.

Friday, 23 November 2012

raising children in london or skye

In an interview article in the WHFP a couple of weeks ago, it said 'Leslie and his family moved to Skye in 2005, mainly because London was not the ideal environment in which to bring up a child', as if that were a truth universally acknowledged rather than that man's opinion, and as if London were a city devoid of familes there by choice. Many people would rather bring up a child in London than Skye. I wonder how many London subscribers they have.

fearful angels

I'd like to rush in, but all these fearful angels keep getting in my way. Pesky angels.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


Seems hardly worth recording these days how much earlier every year Christmas things come. Card Factory had its Christmas stock in place at the end of the summer school holidays, I'm sure, and lots of stores have Christmas displays up.

But today was the first day I was aware of hearing Christmas music in two of the shops I went into down Walworth Road this morning. The second was Morrisons, and I forgave them a little as the song I heard first was Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses, which I've had in my head for a few days (I've been feeling oddly Christmassy, perhaps because I've finished the editing of the magazine and have been planning the Christmas break). Inexplicably, I don't have Christmas Wrapping on any of my Christmas compilations (except a rubbish cover by the Spice Girls). (I have seven or eight compilation CDs of the kind it might appear on; I have other VA and single-artist Christmas CDs, up to a total of - I've just looked - around thirty...)

Saturday, 22 September 2012

clearing the decks

On Thursday I threw out a big bag full of mainly pages or articles torn out of newspapers and magazines with some extract or quote or fact or website in it I planned to note down. I also threw out a bag of publications which were backed up waiting to be read. Yesterday I made a start on moving out some of the books I've read but hadn't got rid of yet because I'd noted some page numbers of things to transcribe, but I'm not going to do that now either. And I've made a start on deleting all the many emails I've sent myself with links to things online I'd read and wanted to keep a note of (and deleted some old podcasts I'd saved similarly). And I'll probably cut down or end posts on here which are just links to things, with title and first line, and just have things I've written myself.

I've always been behind on things like that, and I've always liked doing it, but it's taking too long and creating too much pressure. It might free up more time and remove a burden, but it still feels a bit depressing and a bit like giving up.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

the decline of periodicals

It's puzzling but impressive that at the same time as there is a national decline in weekly and monthly papers and magazines, every district in Lewis seems to now be pumping out regular magazines with news, features and/or local history.

Monday, 10 September 2012

hamlet - bridewell theatre

I went to see Hamlet at the Bridewell Theatre on Saturday evening - only picked up on it from a Bridewell email in the week. It was a production by the Garden Suburb Theatre - new to me, an amateur production, transferring from an outdoor summer run somewhere (Bridewell is now more of a venue for hire than it used to be, I think). I had looked at the website a cople of days before and saw there were plenty tickets available so didn't book, but it was pretty full on the night; there was a large group there, from it turned out one of those clubs which is for folk who like arts and theatre but would rather go in a social group and make new friends than go by themselves.

It's the second amateur Hamlet I've seen, and although neither of them were great, you do have to give them credit for ambition. The previous amateur production I saw had a really very good Hamlet, in a different league from everyone else in the production, who ranged from fine through okay to really not very good. This production didn't have any stand-out performances like that, but Polonius/Osric was pretty good, Hamlet was fine, some others had their moments (the Gravediggers did well; Claudius made me think of Tim McInnerny in Blackadder for a lot of the time, genial but dopey, which worked surprisingly well, whether by accident or design), and some were not very good. But all the same, hats off.

(The main lesson I learnt from it about 'acting which could be improved' (let's not say 'bad') - and it struck me so clearly that it was a wonder that no one pointed it out in rehearsal - was that if you are listening to someone talk in real life, you do not change your expression or make a gesture or make to interrupt in reaction to every different clause of their speech; in general you just listen without obvious relevant reaction.)

They used multiple people to represent the Ghost - three at the start, four later - which was interesting but not sure why and they didn't make much of it. Interesting that for all they had to cut, they retained quite a bit of Hamlet on how people should act, which is often cut. The Ghost popped up at the end to hold Claudius down while Hamlet stabbed him, which was interesting - and coincidentally echoed something from the last Hamlet I'd seen, the Lithuanian one at the Globe, when the Ghost came back on and observed in the last scene. With amateur, of course, you have to work with what you've got, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were clearly not ages to have been schoolfriends of Hamlet, but the way they were dressed I'd say they were going for the idea that they had been his teachers/tutors, which worked fine.

A couple of reviews. Entertainment Focus. One Stop Arts. RemoteGoat. London Culture blog. Here's the Garden Suburb Theatre's pages on the open-air production and the Bridewell transfer. And here, most interestingly, is a blog (mostly by Claudius and the director) on the rehearsal and production process, Hamlet2012OpenAir.

private eye misprints and cartoons

A couple of misprints quoted in Private Eye of 24 August (don't usually go for these, but these were quite appropriate):
(from East Anglian Daily Times) 'A spokesman for the joint administrators, Christopher Pillar and Stephen Oldfield from the Bournemouth office of accountantancy firm PricewasterhouseCoopers,'
(from Telegraph website) 'Financial Services Authority acts to prevent banks misspelling packaged current accounts'

A cartoon from 10 August issue: vicar speaking at graveside: 'Of course, in some ways he will live on forever... thanks to Facebook's data retention policy'

A cartoon from 7 September issue: youth talking to her parents in her bombsite of a bedroom: 'I've packed everything I need for uni, so all this is legacy'

Thursday, 6 September 2012

love will tear us apart; to know him is to love him

A couple of memories of home from the last few days.

On Friday as we came into the Olympic Park through the Greenway gate, very quiet, we turned a corner and up a slope by ourselves, and we saw the Olympic stadium and suddenly heard, loud and clear from the Park sound system, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, as if it were soundtracking our arrival. I wasn't that keen on it at the time - I like it more now - but it has resonance and took me back; it seemed poignant, and incongruous - and just as incongruous that I also should be in this place, over thirty years later.

And on Monday we had our actual last full day of school holiday, thanks to an inset day, and went to the Chatham Historic Dockyard. We had a good time, and I thought frequently about how much my father would have enjoyed it. I'm sure my brother and nephew would enjoy it too; the line goes on. When I got home I listened to Phil Spector's finest hour - or finest 150 seconds or so - To Know Him Is To Love Him, by The Teddy Bears. I always remember that he got the title from a gravestone inscription, 'To Have Known Him Was To Have Loved Him', which always makes me think of my father.

last week of the school holidays

Last week of the school holidays: four days in Brussels, quiet day with a trip to the cinema to see Brave (disappointing), full day of Paralympics at Olympics Park, all culminating in today's trip to John Lewis to buy doormats.

Oh, and a trip to the Apple Store to buy an ipod nano to replace the ipod touch stolen from our Brussels hotel room.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

whistling and humming

I can't put my finger on why it is that for someone to be out and about whistling a tune is perfectly unremarkable, but if they were humming that same tune it would seem a bit odd. I prefer humming to whistling, but have to stop myself.

barnet 1 bristol rovers 1

On Tuesday evening I celebrated the almost-completion of another issue of the magazine with an outing to every Hobbit's favourite football ground, Underhill (opposite end of the Northern line from Mordor Morden), to see Barnet again. It was my second trip, having seen them a couple of seasons ago (near the end of the season when they were battling relegation), when I fancied a football match and found that Millwall now felt too expensive for me. I looked at a couple of League 1 options which were also going on in London on Tuesday, but still felt a bit expensive; League 2 definitely my level price-wise, when all I really want is a bit of a football fix and I'm happy with League 2 quality. Barnet or AFC Wimbledon it is, then.

Being the unfocussed and flighty dabbler that I am, this will probably satisfy my urge to see live football for a while (just as going to the Comedy Store a couple of months ago for some comedy did in that respect).

(I always remember Giles Brandreth saying that someone gave him an embroidered cushion which said 'Don't dabble: focus.', which I can relate to.)

It was Barnet 1 Bristol Rovers 1 (BBC report here). I enjoyed it, and stood on the terrace not far from where I stood last time. It's very handy, not far from the tube and a journey with no changes there and back.

A couple of quite different things struck me. One was that none of the stands seemed to be lit at all: if the floodlights had failed it seemed we would all be in total darkness (though I guess they may have some emergency lighting). The other was that I feel very unskilled at watching football. Barnet were on top in the first half of the first half and the second half of the second half, and Bristol Rovers the rest of the time, but I couldn't see any reason why this should be. I also found it impossible to see how the linesmen and referee could work out what had happened in so many incidents, not just fouls but who had put the ball out and even whether it had gone out for a throw-in or corner.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

no particular politics

This from an article by Peter Clarke in the TLS of 24 November 1995 (a quote I remembered, have presumably noted down somewhere but not in this blog, and recovered it by judicious searching on the TLS website (which is subscriber-only but I was able to piece it together by changing my search terms on the site):  'A comment from John Morley, Gladstone's colleague and biographer, points to a long-standing phenomenon: "When I hear a man say that he has no particular politics, I know that he is going to vote Conservative."'

spamalot, walk hard, downfall

While the cats were away (two weekends ago, for the Shrewsbury Flower Show), the mouse played, going to see Spamalot (had its moments, but mostly made me think that I'd rather be watching the film and how good the songs in Horrible Histories are), and watching off our digibox Walk Hard (an unexpectedly good take-off of music biopics) and Downfall (very good film about the last days of Hitler). I did also work all day the Saturday, so it wasn't all fun. Downfall wasn't exactly fun either, of course.

whit stillman on metropolitan

A Conversation With Whit Stillman About The Script Of 'Metropolitan'
- The Awl, 22 August

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

ten dancer statues of london

Inspired by Darcey Bussell’s coming-out-of-retirement-specially performance at the Olympic Closing Ceremony, strapped to a flaming phoenix — a monument that should surely be made permanent as some kind of legacy thing — we’ve sought out ten current statues of dancers around London.
- Londonist, 20 August

Saturday, 18 August 2012

the queen and the opening ceremony

Cottrell Boyce wrote the storyline for the ceremony, as well as bashing out anything else that was needed: memos, reports and speeches for Boyle. He also did the Bond parody starring the Queen. 'Well, I typed it,' he says modestly. The Queen came up with the idea of appearing in the sketch herself. They had approached the palace for permission to use a lookalike, 'and it came back that she would like to do it', he says. 'Sebastian Coe told me that when they had the first meeting with her, she'd looked at the storyboards and asked what kind of helicopter  we'd be using. We'd drawn one kind of helicopter and she said that would never fit under Tower Bridge.' Her Majesty suggested a type that would. 'She's very helicopter brand-aware.'
- from The Week of 11 August, in item summarising Sunday Times article on Frank Cottrell Boyce, who wrote the Olympics opening ceremony

scottish football attendance today

Interesting, presumably accurate stat posted by David Meredith on Facebook, on a fairly full day of Scottish football fixtures (twenty matches; Celtic away at Ross County, Rangers' first 3rd division match at home to East Stirling: 'Ibrox crowd bigger than SPL + the others combined. Total SPL, SFL 1, 2 & 3 combined attendance = 47,276. Ibrox attendance = 49,118.'

Sunday, 12 August 2012

august ansible - the hobbit trilogy

Peter Jackson's and Warner Bros' plan to expand the _Hobbit_ project from two films to three -- using spare _Lord of the Rings_ material since 'There's so much good stuff in the appendices that we haven't been able to squeeze into these movies' (_Telegraph_, 26 July) -- was thoughtfully described by _The Independent_'s John Walsh as 'stretching an ant's arse over a rain barrel.' (_Independent_, 26 July) [MPJ]
- August Ansible

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

july ansible

[From Ray Bradbury obits] As others see Ray Bradbury. He 'wrote modern myths, not science fiction [...] Bradbury was not that popular among science fiction fans. He was not geeky enough.' (_Telegraph_, 6 June) [MPJ]  'Bradbury wasn't so much a major science fiction writer. He was a major writer who specialized in science fiction.' (_Boston Globe_, 1 July) [DK]
- Ansible, July

Friday, 13 July 2012

the song that conquered radio

The Song That Conquered Radio: How songwriting spouses Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann joined with Phil Spector and the Righteous Brothers to create one of the most-played songs in history, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."
- Wall Street Journal, 12 July

ed miliband's week

Ed Miliband's week: The BBC's sources, the Octonauts and a call from David Cameron: "It’s not the scale of our problems that concerns me so much as the smallness of our politics."
- New Statesman, 11 July. Entertaining and interesting.

'My three-year-old son, Daniel, wanders in as I’m making my final preparations for the Fabian conference and claps in the right places (mostly). Encouraged, I finish off my article for the Sunday Mirror in the car and arrive at the conference centre just in time for someone from a BBC comedy programme to try to slap a Post-it note on my back inscribed with the words "Kick me".'

'Much – perhaps too much – of Sunday is dedicated to Daniel’s latest craze, The Octonauts. Captain Barnacles, Kwazii and Peso understand message discipline better than most. "Explore! Rescue! Protect!" is now hard-wired into my brain.'

death_stairs tweet and blog post

Follow link for extraordinary photo, in this tweet by death_stairs, retweeted by David Schneider:
'Balancing Things On My Sleeping Girlfriend's Head' - Part 5. I don't think I'll top this.

Following me through led me to his blog, on which appears one of the most mortifying true stories ever: the 'stray hair on blouse' story.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

no chips in olympics canteen

Today's extraordinary Olympics sponsorship story, broken on Twitter:

Wow. The saddest, weirdest, most venal and repellent London 2012 "sponsorship obligation" yet? via

 RT So the first thing I see after reading this is this

Tom Chivers' related Telegraph blog item: London 2012 Olympics: McDonald's Is Watching You (and your chips)

Guardian article from 25 May on food outlets and food-related sponsorship restrictions in the Olympic park.

And here's a Guardian article from yesterday: The London Olympics is a corporate lockdown – why not a Games for all? London 2012 is turning into a sponsored security show, but the Games could be opened up to bring the ideal closer to reality

You do wonder if the handful of exclusive Olympic sponsors are appreciating all the publicity they're getting about the tight deals they cut and the draconian restrictions on everyone else, big and small.

Monday, 9 July 2012


Platterday is David Hepworth's blog of 'A record of the records I play on Saturdays', with photos. It's interesting.

scottish football

I've been keeping in touch only generally over the months with the unfolding story of Rangers FC, but have paid more attention in recent weeks as things have come to a head, not least thanks to links to articles tweeted by Alex.

(I had a couple of Twitter exchanges with Alex around 27/28 June:
I: Rangers would show integrity and gain respect if they said right now, please put us in Div 3 for fresh start.
A: Very true. But I suspect for some that would still be too little too late given their recent bullying and blustering.
Later: I (in response to Alex posting this BBC News link re plan to parachute Rangers in to SFL1): Disappointing. What chances of enough SFL teams voting against, do you think?
A: Hard to say but fan anger is mounting & clubs seem to be listening. I'm not confident enough will do the right thing though.)
Here are some recent relevant articles, mostly from Alex Thomson, who I'd never heard of before Alex posted links but has been taking time out from his work as chief correspondent for Channel 4 News to write very good blog posts on the whole situation:
- How to detoxify the Rangers brand (Alex Thomson, 23 June)
- Strawpoll: what do Rangers fans want for the Newco (Alex Thomson, 25 June)
- SPL threaten breakaway second tier if clubs do not agree to Rangers plans (STV, 28 June)
- In full: Document sent to SFL clubs to put Rangers into the First Division (STV, 28 June)
- Latest Plan to Save “Rangers” Is An Abdication of Responsibility by the Football Authorities (Paul McConville blog, 29 June)
- Scottish football's last chance saloon (Alex Thomson, 29 June)
- People at Hampden foresaw Rangers meltdown (Alex Thomson, 30 June)
- Momentous day for Scottish football (Alex Thomson, 4 July)
- Rangers: the vote that never was (Alex Thomson, 7 July)
- 'Despicable' actions of Scottish football authorities (Alex Thomson, 7 July)

Actually hearing more of the pundits and journalists on the issue, what has really taken me by surprise has been the way in which so many of them have gone so firmly down the road of jettisoning any talk of justice and accepted the assumption that even putting Rangers down to SFL1 will be bad for Scottish football, in particular financially, and that justice should be set aside 'for the good of the game' - never mind that doing so would bring the Scottish game into deplorable disrepute. Essentially, that Rangers are 'too big to fail' - or to be allowed to fail. Heard Alex Thomson on the On The Ball podcast and he said he was struck by how the Scottish journalists on the whole were not questioning or probing or challenging these assertions and assumptions and statements by the executives (too cosy?).

The big SFL meeting is on Friday.

does the higgs boson discovery resolve the religion-science debate?

Does the Higgs Boson Discovery Resolve the Religion-Science Debate?- Huffington Post, 6 July.
First para: 'Yeah, right.'

Friday, 6 July 2012

a neuroscientific look at speaking in tongues

A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues: The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up.
- New York Times, 7 November 2006

Thursday, 5 July 2012

a helicopter ride with paddy ashdown

The year is 1992. Paddy Ashdown is sitting on the floor in an ancient Russian helicopter with his Liberal Democrat colleague, the late Russell Johnston at his side. The machine is bucketing along at full speed just feet from the ground. Paddy is wearing a flak jacket and motions, as the craft lurches sickeningly past a clump of trees, for Russell to put his on, too. 'Why?' mouths Russell. Paddy's eyes narrow. 'Those pings you hear above the sound of the engines,' he screams in Russell's ear - 'that, my friend, is gunfire hitting the fuselage!'
I know this happened because I was there. Ashdown and Johnston had been invited to see the Bosnian Serbs and I went with them (I was a young TV reporter) for the ride.
It was some ride. The helicopters that ferried people from the comfort and safety of Belgrade, the capital of what was then still Yugoslavia, to the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, were driven by wild-eyed Russians. They kept low so that folk on the ground with rocket launchers would not have time to use them. All the judgements the pilots made were fine and involved life and death. When I spoke to Lord Ashdown last week, I reminded him that our trip had begun with a false start; the chopper could't get above the trees so we landed again and two people were chucked off. I also reminded him that when we arrived he stood outside the craft and had a cigarette.
It was, the great Yeovil warrior freely admits, 'a frightening ride'.
- Justin Webb, Radio Times, 30 June

edgar wallace; on the spot quotes

Read a good old Edgar Wallace - my first, Bethan picked it up I think - a few months ago, On The Spot. Cover tag line: 'Gang meets gang - with hot lead - in CHICAGO'. First published 1931, this Arrow paperback edition 1962. The main character drawn on the cover is obviously Jimmy Cagney, which places the novel perfectly in its 30s gangster movie style (indeed I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it had been filmed). It's very well-written and fast paced, tight and well-constructed. (A review on this crime fiction site (Golden Age Mysteries forum) says it was based on a play he wrote in four days; read elsewhere he was notorious for writing at speed.)

I picked up a handful of other Edgar Wallaces, after some searching in secondhand bookshops, and finished the first of those, Big Foot, last night. It's not nearly as good (it was a detective thriller, but a bit all over the place I thought, and the detective's speech tended towards the 'spelled as spoken' which usually annoys me); and as Edgar wrote scores of books I will obviously have to try to choose carefully if I can (the Wikipedia entry has I presume a comprehensive bibliography; the entry itself looks like a biographical essay chopped up, not approved style at all; entry credits him as most famous for his involvement in the King Kong screenplay, not sure if that's really true). Big Foot was also a yellow-spined Arrow paperback, though not exactly same series style (first published 1927, this Arrow 1961). The cover image - of a boat chase on the Thames by night - is striking in that it depicts the very last scene on the last page of the book. One of the reasons I chose it, if I had a choice, would have been the cover giving a clue that it was set in London. I like reading stories set in London.

(I was reading an Agatha Christie on the bus a few weeks ago and Hercule Poirot was going to Charing Cross station, which I passed on the bus minutes later, looking (with its hotel frontage) pretty much as it would have to Hercule, if he were not a fictional character.)

(There's a memorial to Edgar Wallace on Ludgate Circus, as he was a noted journalist as well as author, which I see regularly from the bus.)

I wonder if I can find the covers of those editions online? Let's see. First hit in a Google Images search for On The Spot comes up trumps. The Big Foot cover comes up in the third row of its search, in this Ebay listing, don't know if it disappears after auction closes.

I noted three quotes from On The Spot:

First, p32, opening of chapter 2; Tony Perelli is the gang boss:
From the broad balcony with its venetian balustrading Tony Perelli could look down upon the city which he was to rule. He loved Chicago, every stone of it.
Chicago was home and kingdom. The endless trails of cars which passed up and down the broad avenue beneath him bore his subjects to their daily work - his subjects and his partners. Beneath every one of those shiny roofs was a man or woman who kept "the best" in their cellars. Visitors who came to dinner would have the best brought to the table - the best in gilt-necked bottles, the best in sparkling decanters.
It was against the law that the best should be made or sold at all; every furtive case or keg smuggled into the cellars stood for lawlessness, every purchaser contributed to the smuggler who purveyed it and the gunman who protected it. Rather than that they should be denied the satisfaction of parading the best upon their tables, they tacitly agreed that any person interfering with its delivery should be shot and flung from a moving car on to the roadside. They would have been horrified at the suggestion, but they paid for the shells that wiped these vexatious people from the face of the earth, and unconsciously subscribed to the flowers that went to their funerals.

'Killing a man seems pretty awful - in cold blood!'
Perelli shook his head.
'Killing a guy in hot blood - that's awful, because nine times in ten you make a mistake, and you kill somebody you wouldn't kill, that you didn't oughta kill. Look at the war, Jimmy - I was in that. Killing guys we didn't know - regular fellers, some of them. They'd done nothing wrong, but we just sailed in and killed them and they killed us. There's no sense to it. but when we bump off a man there's a reason, and when we do it it's been worth doing. The things you do in hot blood are generally fooolish, and the things you do in cold blood are the worth-while ones.'
So Jimmy had his first lesson in the ethics of gangland, and, being young, he was impressed.

p87: - ah, only noted because of the name of a character introduced, who doesn't play a large part, one of three henchmen:
'The most important of these, "Spike" Milligan, weedy-looking, hatchet-faced, sandy-haired, with the appearance of a well-furnished bank clerk, by nature more deadly than a ring snake, turned to the more pressing business of reprisal.'

forest fire photo

Snopes article on an impressive photo taken during a forest fire in America.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

crying german

UEFA under fire for faking ‘crying fan’ footage: European football's governing body UEFA has sparked outrage after it emerged that they manipulated footage of fans during the Euro 2012 semi-finals.
People across the world were touched when cameras zoomed in on a German fan in the crowd crying after Mario Balotelli put Italy two goals ahead in the first half of their match last week. ESPN commentator Adrian Healey even referred to the woman as he covered the game for American TV, saying it was "too early for tears" since there was the best part of an hour left in which the sparky Germans could fight their way back into the match. There was just one problem: the woman - a fan from Dusseldorf called Andrea - hadn't started crying at all, and was stunned to receive text messages from friends back home asking why she was blubbing with so much football left to play. It turns out that Andrea had actually been overcome by emotion during the singing of the German national anthem before the match. The footage was recorded, then cut into the live feed sent to broadcasters around the world after the Italians went 2-0 up.
- Yahoo Sport news, 4 July

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

don't tweet photos of your debit cards

Need a debit card? Twitter account exposes photos of debit and credit cards
- Naked Security blog, Sophos, 3 July

latest version of e&c shopping centre plans

Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre could double in size: The owners of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre say that they expect to start work in 2015 on a scheme to effectively double the retail space and create 1,000 homes on top of the building.
- SE1, 3 July

Monday, 25 June 2012

old aerial photos of london

Old Aerial Photos Of London Released- Londonist, 25 June. This is the new English Heritage site they're from, Britain From Above.

row over theory of evolution

Richard Dawkins in furious row with EO Wilson over theory of evolution: Book review sparks war of words between grand old man of biology and Oxford's most high-profile Darwinist
- Guardian, 24 June

Saturday, 23 June 2012

oral tradition and king solomon

There’s a sense in which the programme this morning reminded me in its form of Solomon and his decision to slice the baby in two, in order to discover who was the real mother.  Although I don’t think we discovered who was the real mother.  Our slicing was between minimalists and maximalists.

The last three weeks have had the subtext (on In Our Time) of scholarship about scholarship.  When we discussed Marco Polo, part of the discussion was – could we believe much of what he said and, indeed, had he said it?  When we discussed the Trojan War, similar problems of the authenticity of the written and the archaeological evidence came through.  And again this morning, the records about Solomon were written three or four hundred years after his death, at a time of ideological emphasis in Israel when, as Martin Palmer pointed out, they were determined to have the great man that they thought Solomon had been.

The maximalists rely quite strongly on the Scriptures, however late they were written.  The minimalists tend to point out the paucity of archaeological evidence.  One thing that was missing entirely was a consideration of oral evidence, although I don’t know how one gets at this.

The fact seems to be that in many of the greatest of the old civilisations – the Celts would be a fine example – oral evidence was the main source of historical, mythological and cultural continuity within a society.  It is galling, to say the least, that we have no access to this.  What I would contend is that although the Scriptures in the Old Testament in which Solomon was mentioned were written three or four hundred years after his death, it is not impossible that a strong and carefully schooled oral tradition (such as we know the Celts to have been), could have taken through the main points of that story, even over that long time.  Formal oral traditions prided themselves on their accuracy.  In fact, one of the reasons they would not have things written down was because they thought the written word could be so easily twisted and turned, whereas the spoken word, spoken by people who had been disciplined to learn accurately, was far more reliable.
- from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter  of 7 June on the King Solomon episode

Friday, 22 June 2012

galactic pot-healer

Just finished Galactic Pot-Healer by Philip K Dick. It was poor - badly written, garbled, disjointed, all over the place, easily the worst of his I've read. I wondered if it was written during some drug-addled period, say, when he was writing rubbish, but looking at the bibliography on Wikipedia it's in the middle of some which are considered to be among his classics (eg two years after Do Androids, two before Flow My Tears). Funny old world.

A quick google kicks up various reviews, all of which love it to a greater or lesser extent. Funnier old world.

Monday, 18 June 2012

on a mission with london's urban explorers

On a mission with London's urban explorers: The Shard, the Olympic Stadium, the defunct British Museum Tube station: nowhere is off-limits for urban explorers, who consider it their right to enjoy a city from whichever height or depth they wish. Richard Godwin is the first journalist to join them on a mission
- Evening Standard, 15 June

london's protected views

London's Protected Views - Telegraph photo feature

wayne rooney on his craft

Beautiful game. Beautiful mind.
- ESPN, 16 May. Interview with Wayne Rooney reveals his surprisingly cerebral, non-instinctive approach to his playing.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

the overside

The Overside's Myspace page. Andy Pearson's Myspace page and Bebo profile

'is it good for...?'

Emlyn Williams posted this on his Facebook page today:
'Roger McGough once ticked me off (no that's not the start of a poem) for making a disparaging comment about a fellow poet. He made clear that his watchword in all matters poetic is: "Is it good for poetry?"' Michael Rosen in yesterday's Guardian. I don't think it only applies to poetry.

Monday, 11 June 2012

the young princess has always kept the faith with her people

The young Princess has always kept the faith with her people: Our monarch has found pleasure in her sense of duty, and drawn strength from religion.
- Telegraph, 11 June

london reflected in puddles

London reflected in puddles and wet pavements: photos by Gavin Hammond- Telegraph, 11 June

Saturday, 9 June 2012

sebastian faulks on the bbc

Sebastian Faulks: The BBC binds the nation. Don't condemn it because of one bad day on the Diamond Jubilee. Without Radio 4, the United Kingdom would, I believe, have a collective nervous breakdown
- Independent, 8 June

Thursday, 7 June 2012

royal visit

This month's Rudhach has an item, with photos, on the Royal Visit to Lewis (and other of the Outer Isles and Skye) in 1956 of the Queen, Philip, Charles, Anne (and Margaret, though she's not in the pictures) - during the first of many Hebridean holidays. There's a photo of the family leaving Tiumpan in a car, top down, driven by Philip, and a photo of Elizabeth and Philip (surrounded by a large crowd) going into Isabella Graham's new white house with the old black house of Catherine Grant, which they've just visited, across the road in the background. You wonder what they thought of the way people lived at this end of their nation.

variable hours

Striking point in the In Our Time episode on the measurement of time, which I'm listening to just now. In the early centuries and civilisations of time measurement, there was a fixed number of hours between sunrise and sunset, which meant that since those times varied depending on the time of year, the length of time an hour lasted also varied through the year.


Clip from Joanna Lumley's Desert Island Discs, on the Christmas special, where she introduces her choice of Last Christmas with an emphatic pronunciation of 'Last Christmas I *gev* you my heart', then George sings the line and sure enough that's just how he pronounces it.

normans still on top in britain

Nearly a millennium after William and his Norman knights conquered Britain, it's remarkable how the historic shock of 1066 still reverberates. (As presenter Michael Wood points out, people with French names are still the richest Britons today, on average better educated and longer lived.)
- from Radio Times' preview tomorrow of The Great British Story: a People's History

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

thames holds a mirror to 60 years of change

Thames holds a mirror to 60 years of change: The Thames is at the heart of the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations. And a trip down it by boat is the best way to see how much the nation has changed during her reign
- Observer, 27 May

video taken from flypast spitfire

This is fascinating: uploaded to Youtube by the Ministry of Defence, a 1m30s video – side view then back view - taken from a Spitfire on yesterday’s Diamond Jubilee flypast. Watching the other planes is as striking as the views of London.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

pragmatic monarchism

From a Facebook posting by David Robertson, which reflects my own pragmatic monarchism: 'Rod Liddle writing in The Sunday Times writes how he was opposed to the whole idea of the monarchy until the appointment of Baroness Ashton to the post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. "It was then I realised that if we ever got rid of the monarch, it would be someone like AShton who would replace her; someone who owes her job to political patronage, to 'having the correct views and knowing the right people'. I'd far rather stick with the Queen and 'Phil the Greek' - people who are immune to the demands of modernity. Better by far to have an institution we know to be undemocratic, than something we pretend is democracy but is really just a tyranny of obsessives".'

the mystery of edwin drood

Last Tuesday Mum and I went to the Arts Theatre to see the musical version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which we both enjoyed a lot. It's a transfer from another small London theatre (the Landor in Clapham), first produced, successfully, in 1985 in Broadway and very popular. I didn't like the songs much on the whole (and though there weren't many instruments they were still too loud to hear the words properly) but I'd still recommend it despite that, because you can still enjoy it even if that's the case, because it's the structure of it that's most entertaining. It's set up as a music hall entertainment, with the musical being put on by music hall entertainers. Before the start and during the interval the cast wandered about among the audience and we had a music hall singsong, with song sheets. A lot of audience interaction. The kind of thing that would have worked even better with a bigger audience, but was still fun - we had tickets in the back row of the small balcony but were bumped up to 'premium' seats centre stalls.

(I tweeted 'Mystery of Edwin Drood @DroodWestEnd at @ArtsTheatreLDN last night. Lots of fun. Would be more fun if more audience - go!' As I've noticed recently with theatre productions, lots of the cast were on Twitter, as well as the theatre and the production.)

The middle of the second half they reach the point where Dickens stopped, then the audience got to vote on three things from a range of possibilities - with the ground rule that Edwin had actually been murdered: who the mysterious detective was, in disguise from the first half; who the murderer was; and who would be united in love at the end (murderer vote actually totted up by cast members with audience show of hands in sections, others by applause). The choices seemed obvious to me, or at least one of two in the murderer one, but I bet they could be quite different from performance to performance. (I asked on Twitter if they kept a tally as it'd be interesting to see the stats at the end of the run, and they said they did.)

The performances were good, the cast good and having fun. Several looked familiar but looking at their details in the programme I don't think I'd seen any of them before (also, for the record, Edwin was played by Kara Lily Hayworth, as per slip in my programme, doing a run of the dates for some reason). One of the women got top billing, Wendi Peters, who's been in Coronation Street, she was good, mum knew her.

Some reviews (not many of the usuals). Camden New Journal. This Space Blank blog (with impressive 'show must go on' story of bleeding Edwin continuing singing). The production website. Time Out. MellowDayLondon blog. Remotegoat reviews one and two. CharlesDickensLondon blog. What's On Stage. BWW. UK Theatre Network. A Younger Theatre. The Stage. One Stop Arts.

euro 2012 preview

I liked the Euro 2012 preview in the 18 May Private Eye (the financial Euro symbol in the heading gives the clue it's financial rather than football):
Germany v Greece
Germany v France
Germany v Spain
Germany v Italy
Germany v Portugal
Germany v Republic of Ireland
Germany win on Financial Penalties
Tournament Slogan:
'They think it's uber alles, it is now!'

old london bridge section in guy's quad

Last week went to the Cuming Museum's temporary exhibition on Charles Dickens' Southwark childhood, which didn't take long to go round but was quite interesting and the leaflet for which came with a suggested walking tour route.

New interesting fact I picked up from the walk info is that if you go into the Guy's Hospital quadrangle (from St Thomas Street) through the gats and under the arches ahead, there is a 'London bridge niche' on your left. 'This section of the old medieval bridge dates from 1176 and was purchased by the hospital for 10 guineas and installed in 1861.'

'a convalescing child pianist'

The current When Saturday Comes describes Colin Murray (Fighting Talk, MOTD2), in the context of something relating to MOTD2, as 'having the physical presence of a convalescing child pianist'. I do like WSC (and Colin M, on Fighting Talk; never seen MOTD2).

Sunday, 3 June 2012

jubilee river pageant

Watched some of the Jubilee River Pageant today, from halfway up a street running down to the Thames near London Bridge. Like watching it through an open door at the distant end of a packed corridor in which someone had set the sprinklers off. Still, cherub thinks she saw Queenie, so it's all good.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

london discoveries from walking the tube lines

London discoveries from walking the tube lines: Mark Mason is one of our heroes. He took on the challenge to travel the entire underground network on foot for his book Walk the Lines and survived a victorious champion, packed full of exciting London tales. He now takes people on guided 90 minute walks along different stretches of Tube lines, uncovering the area’s trivia and history. We asked him for five of his favourite discoveries from his travels...
- Time Out blog, 30 May

urban legends: phyllis pearsall and the a-z

Urban legends: Phyllis Pearsall and the A-Z. The story of Phyllis Pearsall and the A-Z is one of London’s most enduring and endearing myths. To take but one example, here’s the Design Museum‘s version of how, in 1935, Pearsall couldn’t find her way to a party in Belgravia so decided to make a completely new map of London, which she did by getting up at 5am each morning and walking every one of London’s 23,000 streets – a distance of 3,000 miles. The result was the A-Z, the first street atlas of London. [continues, to explain how this is nonsense]
- The Great Wen blog, 25 October 2010

london, france's sixth biggest city

London, France's sixth biggest city: More French people live in London than in Bordeaux, Nantes or Strasbourg and it is now thought to be France's sixth biggest city in terms of population. What is attracting a new generation of young French professionals to the city? - BBC, 30 May

Saturday, 19 May 2012

last night a dvd saved my life

Last night a DVD saved my life: A teenager diagnosed herself with cancer after watching her illness depicted in the Cameron Diaz weepie My Sister's Keeper
- Guardian,  17 May

Friday, 18 May 2012

what's boris up to?

What's Boris up to? The Mayor's plans for London are all too vague, but his plans for himself are crystal clear
- Sonia Purnell, Daily Mail, 17 May

Thursday, 17 May 2012

money becomes new church battleground

Money becomes new church battleground: Conservative evangelical churches threaten to withhold cash from pro-gay and liberal 'heretics'
- Guardian, 16 May

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

why boris won't make pm

Mary Ann Sieghart: So Boris Johnson is more popular than David Cameron. But he won't make PM. Conservative MPs wondering how they can replace their leader with the Mayor can sober up.
- Independent, 6 May

london's lost rivers

London’s lost rivers: the hidden history of the city’s buried waterways. Tom Bolton reveals the surprising stories behind the little-known rivers that still surge beneath the streets of London.
- Telegraph, 11 April. Some interesting details, but most saved for you to buy the book

a trip to the vets

A Trip To The Vets.
Today’s coverage about Andy Coulson’s vetting prompts me to write a little blog about what developed vetting is, and why people have to go through it.
When I started my job as Head of Communications at the Treasury in 2003, every induction conversation ended up with me being asked: ‘Have you been DV’d yet?’ ‘Not yet.’ ‘You’ve got to get that done.’ I soon found out why. Briefing sessions with the Chancellor ahead of international summits would be broken up as Gordon’s PPS, Mark Bowman, said: ‘Damian, you need to go out for a bit.’
- fascinating blog post by Damian McBride on being vetted

when eric met malcolm

Stornoway Gazette Reporter Eric Mackinnon met ACDC legend Malcolm Young on a family trip to Harris this month. The rhythm guitarist and founding member of ACDC was in the Western Isles to retrace his wifes island family links, as well as enjoying the spring sunshine.
- Gazette, 16 May

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

the 'leftwing bias' charge is distracting the bbc

The 'leftwing bias' charge is distracting the BBC: The idea there's bias one way or the other is a convenient myth, but paranoia about the issue runs through BBC executives
- Guardian, 15 May

Monday, 14 May 2012

god gave rock and roll to who?

God gave rock and roll to who? Over the years many rockers have found religion – so here is our pick of the pops - the top ten believers who are more at home in leathers than sweaters, and more likely to site the influence of AC DC than Graham Kendrick.
- Christian.co.uk, 1 May. Cite, obviously. Alice Cooper No 1, also obviously (it's a very heavy list).

boris johnson: two reasons why it suits him to attack the bbc

Boris Johnson: two reasons why it suits him to attack the BBC. The London mayor's extraordinary attack on the national broadcaster both feeds his Tory grassroots support and reveals his dislike of proper scrutiny.
- Guardian,  14 May


'PopSpots: The exact Spots where famous events of Pop culture took place (with a focus on New York City.)'
- there are a couple of London ones so far, including the Subterranean Homesick Blues video, which I've always seen described as 'behind the Savoy', but it turns out it's right beside the Savoy Chapel, right where I was on Saturday. 
There's also The Who in front of Big Ben, which hardly seems worth doing, although they've gone to great lengths (via Google) to find the exact angle.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

fair stood the wind for france

Finished last night Fair Stood The Wind For France, by H E Bates, in a nice old Penguin edition (orange/white/illustration cover, similar but not exactly as here, mine didn't say 'complete/unexpurgated'), which sadly I'll have to bin as its coming apart.

Always interesting to read a war novel actually written during the war it refers to. It wasn't bad, but not as good as I'd hoped - I read it like a schoolboy, wanting more of the plot of the crashed airmen in France and their escape, and less of the description and reflection and poeticism.

Friday, 11 May 2012

just boris quotes - chapter 3

Chapter 3 covers Oxford. Wins elections with laughs and political vagueness.

[Frank Luntz said] 'I told him he was so popular that even in Oxford, where Conservatives were hated, he could have run and won as an outspoken Tory. He could have changed the whole image of Conservatism but he just didn't want to do that.'
Instead Boris chose to reflect mid-80s realities by becoming a politically androgynous personality, seemingly offering something for everyone. One contemporary recalls: 'You could read anything you liked into this new Boris. So, if you were from a northern comprehensive like me, you liked the "I'm funny and you like funny, so vote for me" pitch.' (p81-82)

[Another undergraduate said] 'He did not appear partisan at all, but rather happily mushy in the middle. If you were left-wing Tory - and most Oxford Tories *were* rather than Thatcherite - then you could say he was probably "one of us." If you were part of the SDP ascendancy or a Liberal, then you thought, 'Well, he's hanging out with our lot, so he must be one of ours."' Such an astute observer as Nick Robinson, now the BBC's political editor but then President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, had no idea of Boris's true political loyalties. 'I had not the faintest clue that Boris was a Conservative. Indeed, I would have told you, if you had asked me at the time, that he was a supporter of the SDP/Liberal Alliance.' (p82. Sonia says there has long been controversy as to whether he did join the SDP as part of these manoeuvres but she thinks that unlikely.)

The chapter also reveals the interesting fact that Ken Livingstone took it up on himself to study the classics in order to understand his opponent better. (p91)

Sonia Purnell, Just Boris. Amazon will sell it to you, if you can't find it anywhere else. Go on.

gay marriage: importing america’s culture wars has backfired on david cameron

Gay marriage: importing America’s culture wars has backfired on David Cameron. The Prime Minister is in retreat over gay marriage – but he should never have picked the fight to begin with.
- Telegraph, 10 May

the woman who lives in a shed

The woman who lives in a shed: how London landlords are cashing in. Council finds people living in everything from massively overcrowded houses to a walk-in freezer – and the problem is getting worse
- Guardian, 9 May

Thursday, 10 May 2012

the evolution of evolution

The evolution of Evolution: Of all the internal debates within Christianity, the subject of evolution is one which often sparks the most controversy and argument. Should Christians accept Darwin's theory, and what does the Bible really teach?
- Christian.co.uk (new to me), 3 May

Monday, 7 May 2012

'and then thick people react to it'

Alun Cochrane said something interesting on the Frank Skinner podcast (of the 28 April programme), talking about the fuss about Lucy Worsley apparently saying in an interview (in the Radio Times, again) that she was too clever to have children (which of course isn't what she said, which was something much more nuanced and accurate about the choice between career and children, and the impact of academic qualifications/education/career path on that):
'One of the problems that happens in the media, I think, is that clever people say a thing and then thick people react to it.'

'no influence gained at no.10 dinners'

'No influence gained at No. 10 dinners'
- shock new claim
A regular attendee at the Prime Minister's Downing Street kitchen suppers has vigorously denied that personal access results in any sort of influence over government policy.
He said, 'I've tried very hard to change the Prime Minister's mind, but it has never made any difference.'
Mr Clegg, who wished to remain anonymous, continued. 'Look, I've paid a very high price to sit at the PM's table, and, believe me, I've got nothing in return. Not a sausage. Ok, possibly a sausage.'
The Prime Minister's office responded to Mr Clegg's latest intervention. 'Mr Clegg is entitled to his opinions but, frankly, they are of no interest to us.'
When pressed for a personal reply from the Prime Minister himself, Mr Cameron later said, 'Nick, can you pipe down, clear the table and get on with the washing up'.
- Private Eye, 6 April

tall story

Every night except Sunday we would be at their house listening to the stories. They had competitions for the tallest stories - a man said that he canoed up Ben Eitsheall and then the other man said that he saw him do it! The second man's story was the tallest as he had the worst lie.
- extract from 'Memories of the croft', reminiscences recorded in 2007 by Alison Kennedy, from March 2012 Back In The Day, reprinted from North Lochs Historical Society's Dusgadh

patrick moore in the radio times

I think we're certainly here for a reason. I'm absolutely convinced of it. It's an arrogance to say we are the centre of the universe.
- Patrick Moore, Radio Times, 5 May.

Mind you, in the same interview he gave his forthright and mistaken views about things like Germans (which made the news - the Radio Times have done very well in recent years in getting their interviews turned into news stories), equal opportunities ('The trouble is, the BBC is run by women'), human rights legislation ('I'd dismantle it!') and Europe ('Go to Europe and look around. The Germans tried to conquer us. The French betrayed us. The Belgians did very little and the Italians made us our ice cream. Just look at the world now and look at it when we had a bigger say in it. The English are best. Stand up for England!').

The German extract (including possible explanation):
[He was a commissioned RAF officer by 17, having fiddled his age] There have been reliable rumours of remarkable heroism; reports of Flight Lieutenant Moore climbing over the dead bodies of his pilot and co-pilot to bring his Lancaster bomber safely to land, whispers of an equally distinguished career in Intelligence. Moore, however, remains tight-lipped about his war record. 'My Group Captain said to me, "You must never talk about it." I said, "Sir, I promise," and you don't play that false.'
And if Moore adheres to the 'hush-hush' rules , it is at least partly because he feels that the threat of world domination has not passed.
'We must take care,' he says, with the utmost seriousness. 'There may be another war. The Germans will try again, given another chance. A Kraut is a Kraut is a Kraut. And the only good Kraut is a dead Kraut.
A German general said to me at the end of the war: 'You won two wars. You won't win the third. And that's the economic war.' I hope he's wrong.
It seems a long time to nurse antipathy against a nation. And it is a curious thing to watch the kindly wizard turn cold. But there is no doubting Moore's sincerity. 'Well,' he concedes, an an effort to humour the innocent, 'there can be good, free, honourable, decent Germans. I haven't met them myself, but I'm sure they exist.'
It is possible that the clue to his intransigence lies in the death of his fiancee, Lorna, killed in a wartime bombing raid. 'We were 20,' he says, falling into the staccato of suppressed emotion, 'She was killed. That was that. It happens.'
Moore's loyalty to Lorna has never wavered. In his 2003 autobiography, 80 Not Out, he confessed that after 60 years, 'There were rare occasions when I could go for a whole half-hour without thinking of her - but not often.'
This remains true. 'That is why I am a reluctant bachelor,' he says. 'It's such a long time ago now, 1940. But I still feel the same about Lorna and, if it had been the other way round, I think she'd have done the same.'

Sunday, 6 May 2012

vews of the aylesbury

Views of the Aylesbury: one of Britain's most maligned estates
When it was built it was thought of as a 'great place to live', but over the years its reputation has plummeted. Why?
- Guardian, 3 May

Friday, 4 May 2012

may ansible extracts

As others see China: In a bookshop. _Customer_ (pointing at _Perdido Street Station_ by China Mieville): 'Excuse me, how do you pronounce this writer's name?' _Bookseller:_ 'Well, I've heard people say Mee-ville, but I think because of the accent, it's Me-eh-ville.' _Customer:_ 'No, I mean his first name.' _Bookseller:_ 'Well, it's China -- like the country.' _Customer:_ 'The country?' (Jen Campbell, _Financial Times_, 7 April)

As others recall us: _Customer:_ 'Do you have a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Six?' _Bookseller:_ 'Nineteen Eighty-Six?' _Customer:_ 'Yeah, Orwell.' _Bookseller:_ 'Oh -- _Nineteen Eighty-Four_.' _Customer:_ 'No, I'm sure it's Nineteen Eighty-Six; I've always remembered it because it's the year I was born.' (Jen Campbell, _Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops_, 2012)
- extract from May Ansible

Monday, 30 April 2012

definition of an englishman

Last week's quote from my WHSmith diary, by Philip Guedalla (no, me neither, even WHS spelt his name wrongly, some Googling revealed; 1889-1944):
'An Englishman is a man who lives on an island in the North Sea governed by Scotsmen.'

just boris quotes part 1

Some quotes and notes from Just Boris, by Sonia Purnell.

[What Sonia told his wife-to-be Marina in 1992, when Sonia was Boris's No2 in the Telegraph's Brussels bureau, when Marina asked her what she really thought of Boris] Emboldened by the intimacy of a large, jolly crowd, I delivered a verdict rather more candid than careful, but one I still hold to this day. 'I think he is the most ruthless, ambitious person I have ever met.' In the half-light she looked rather shocked - it was not then the prevailing view. Most thought of him as a charming, if shambolic hack defined by a love of classical civilisations and a problem with detail. But working with him so closely, I had observed that under a well-cultivated veneer of disorganisation lay not so much a streak of aspiration as a torrent of almost frightening focus and drive. (introduction, p4)

Chapter 1 is the chapter that makes you feel sorry for Boris, covering his childhood and his monstrous father Stanley. It reveals he was seriously deaf as a child, and you do get that sense of the self-contained, inner world of isolation sometimes. He was for a time in Primrose Hill Primary School. 'It was the same establishment attended by the future Labour leader Ed Milliband (who, being five years his junior, says he has no recollection of Boris) and his elder brother David (a year younger and so doubtless aware of Boris as a playground presence, but unwilling to discuss his memories). Astonishingly, Boris has managed to attend the same schools as both major party leaders in place in 2011. It is also remarkable that one state primary should have produced three prominent politicians in such a short space of time.' (chapter 1, p30)

Chapter 2 covers Eton. Quotes housemaster David Guilford's positive memories of Boris, then says: 'This crystal-clear recollection more than three decades on is all the more striking considering some of the other students Guilford encountered in his time. "I also taught David Cameron, but I don't remember him at all - he must just have done what he was told." Another master - Tim Connor - actually denied having taught Cameron, having no recollection of him. Presented with concrete evidence that he had indeed taken the future Prime Minister in the Upper Sixth, a dumbfounded Connor admitted it was still a "complete blank." '  (chapter 2, p47) Another teacher, headmaster Eric Anderson, formerly Tony Blair's housemaster at Fettes, also thought well of him: 'Anthony Howard remembers going to speak at Eton after Boris had left and asking Anderson: "Who is the most interesting - rather than the cleverest - pupil you've ever had?" He replied: "Without a doubt, Boris Johnson." And according to Anderson: "He's a very memorable person. Anyone who's spent an hour with Boris never forgets it. All I have to say to you about him is good." Privately, however, a different message sometimes emerges from the Etonian ranks, with grumbles that despite his undoubted cleverness and panache, Boris was too much of a "showman" to tackle anything really serious.' (p57)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

george galloway's religious beliefs

George Galloway has denied claims made by Jemima Khan that he converted to Islam in a ceremony in London 10 years ago. However, he does not deny he is a Muslim. Which makes an interview he gave to the Spectator six years ago, on April 14 2006, all the more intriguing. The Spectator asked prominent individuals whether they thought Jesus really did rise from the dead. Among them was Galloway, who replied emphatically in the affirmative: “Yes, I believe in the Resurrection,” said Galloway, now the Respect MP for Bradford West with a huge Muslim following. “I believe God restored the life of Jesus of Nazareth and took him to his bosom. The example of suffering and sacrifice followed by vindication is central to my religious belief.”
- Londoner's Diary, Evening Standard, 27 April

Friday, 27 April 2012

guardian animation of mayoral election

The Guardian animates London’s Mayoral election: Big applause to The Guardian’s Paul Owen for the video below which nicely sums up this year’s underwhelming and policy-lite Mayor of London elections.
- Mayorwatch blog, 27 April

furry boots comfy?

This is surely an apocryphal story, and I'm sure I've heard a similar joke before, but on the R4 News Quiz last year Hugo Rifkind delivered it as a true story which happened to a friend of his who moved with her husband up to Aberdeen. 'On his first day in his new office someone came up to him and said, "Furrybootscomfy?" And he genuinely said, "They're brogues."'

('Whereabouts do you come from?', obviously.)

private eye cover

The current Private Eye cover is very good (after the capping of tax relief on big charitable donations). Headed 'Comic Tax Relief: Doing Crazy Things For Charity!' Photo of John Bishop, David Cameron and David Walliams. John says, 'I did a triathlon'; David W says, 'I swam the Thames'; David C says, 'I made George Osborne chancellor'

And I didn't know until now that there was a full searchable set of Private Eye covers on the Private Eye website.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

danish drama

An interesting item in this week's Radio Times on Danish drama, on the back of another Scandinavian detective series, The Bridge, starting. Extract:
'DR [the Danish national broadcaster, which produced The Killing and The Bridge] is remarkably similar to the BBC: both are public service broadcasters supported via a licence fee, created back in the 1920s. DR's licence fee is higher, at around £250 per household, but raised from a much smaller population. Without advertising breaks, it makes hour-long drama, without injecting cliffhangers.
But DR raises only an eighth of the UK licence fee total and can afford only a tiny amount of original drama, perhaps one big series annually: ten episodes are the usual length. The drama it backs are sagas, for the dark winter Sunday nights. They take a gamble a year. So, there are no undiscovered gems or rich archives. Remarkably, what we see here on BBC4 is all they make. It is an example of how doing less can be more. ...
... But DR sets clear rules. Dramas must be contemporary, original, not a remake of classic novels. They must depict and say something penetrating about Danish society, reflecting, for example, the strong influence of career women, as with Borgen's Brigitte Nyborg, the fictional prime minister. The creators/writers are given overall power, but are set challenging audience targets. They're expected to take time mulling over plots Then episodes are filmed in sequence.
The result is "deliberate methodical storytelling" said The New York Times correctly.'

product placement

The film preview section of this week's Radio Times says that The African Queen was the first Hollywood film to use product placement; it was Gordon's gin.

frank skinner stories

On the podcast of his Absolute radio show last year, Frank Skinner said that at one point he was good friends with Alison Moyet - going out with a mutual friend - and they used to go round Alison's house, where there was a big pile of cuddly toys, their being kids in the house, and they played a brilliant game where you had to pick a cuddly toy and then make the same facial expression, while holding it up beside your face.

Another story he told last year (arising out of the fact that when Stuart Pearce played under Brian Clough, obviously quite a long time ago, he used to advertise as an electrician in the programme) was how a West Brom player, Willie Johnston, was taking a corner, got into a conversation with someone in the crowd, and ended up selling him his shed.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

just boris

Read Sonia Purnell's very good biog of Boris Johnson, Just Boris, over the last few weeks in copy from the library. Plan to post some quotes, but here are the cover quotes for starters (I haven't given all the attributions):
'Hair-raisingly candid'
'A rollicking narrative'
'If you want the full Johnson experience, do read Just Boris'
'Sonia must have had huge fun writing this wonderful book. The only person who won't be amused is Boris himself' (Michael Crick)
'Filled with gems ... will make uncomfortable reading for Boris'
'If Boris ever does run for the Tory leadership, thanks to Ms Purnell's flair and industry, we cannot say that we have not been warned' (Nick Wood, ConservativeHome)
'Brilliant and shattering'
'Whether you like Boris or loathe him, he is a class act and Sonia Purnell's excellent book is a must-read for those who want to understand this mystery wrapped in an enigma' (Jerry Hayes, Spectator)
'Sonia Purnell's Just Boris stood out as a critical, illuminating view of London's great blond egomaniac'
'Thoroughly researched and well-crafted ... If you want to know who and what Boris is, read Sonia Purnell's book'
'Exceptionally well-written'
'It's all here: Boris having his cake, eating it, and then having a bun'
'Portrays better than any predecessor the arrogance, opportunism and irresistible buffoonery of our most celebrated politician'
'Meticulous and quietly devastating'
'Total rubbish' (Stanley Johnson)

Saturday, 21 April 2012

kieran richardson's faith

Kieran Richardson, Sunderland Midfielder, Says He Is A Born-Again Christian - Huffington Post, 18 April

the atheist's guide to reality

The Atheist's Guide to Reality, By Alex Rosenberg - Independent, 18 April. Depressing review of book, or review of depressing book. Extract: He begins by rebranding atheism as "scientism" so as to better describe what atheists "do believe". First, an atheist has to understand the science, then accept its "irrefutably correct answers to the persistent questions". What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Rosenberg's scientism is built on accepting well-established laws of physics as the basic description of reality. He argues that the physics tells us just about everything we need to know about how the universe works. We can extend this to chemistry and biology, and then, with an appeal to Darwinian processes, everything else. For Rosenberg, almost everything we think of as having inherent value or meaning, from morality to the idea of a self, does not. He wants us to let go of our many illusions, such as the concept of free will.

Friday, 20 April 2012

dick france obituary

Canon Dick France, who has died aged 73, was among the foremost New Testament scholars of his day and Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, from 1989 until 1995. - Telegraph, 17 April

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

brian wilson: no political satire please, we’re scottish

Brian Wilson: No political satire please, we’re Scottish.
Alex Salmond’s indignation over the Economist’s front page highlights a serious national deficiency. Try as I might, I just cannot bring myself to feel insulted by the Outer Hebrides being dubbed “Outer Cash” (a little too close to the truth for comfort) or Grampian becoming “Grumpian” (ditto). I know that this exposes me to the jeopardy of being branded unpatriotic, heaven forfend, since our First Minister has decreed that the front cover of the Economist, which carried a spoof map of Scotland, was “insulting to every single community north of the Border”.
- Scotsman, 18 April

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

oh, samantha

Journalist Samantha Brick ridiculed on Twitter for complaining she is too pretty. A “delusional” journalist has provoked global ridicule after writing an article entitled “there are downsides to looking this pretty”.
- Telegraph, 3 April

charlie brooker writes cheerful column

For one week only, I'm allowed to say it: I get babies. Call me dense or cold or both, but I wasn't anticipating the wave of euphoria I'm experiencing now that I've become a father
- Charlie Brooker, Guardian, 1 April

the london mayoral election options explained

In twenty days, London elects its new Mayor. They'll set our taxes, run our police, coordinate our transport and greet the world at the start of the Olympics. And, knowing London, we'll elect the wrong candidate.

There is a serious risk that will win the Mayoral Election. And that would be awful. I cannot believe that so many Londoners are willing to give their vote to this charlatan. He's nothing but an idiot, a slimy self-interested caricature, out of touch with the wider world. His views on the major issues of the day are little short of laughable, and yet somehow he commands the devotion of millions. Whenever you see his face on the TV you want to cringe, whenever you hear him speak you want to scream, and whenever you read his policies you want to argue with every word. The amount of tax he pays makes my eyes water, and my blood boil. His staff are nothing but lickspittle cronies, using public money to further their perverse agendas. He'll do nothing for the Londoners who really matter, preferring instead to prioritise his own kind at the expense of the rest of us. Imagine four years with this bloke at the helm of the capital - the damage they could do doesn't bear thinking about. And yet people are sleepwalking into voting for this madman because they're fixated on personality rather than policies. Transport, crime, employment - these are the battlegrounds on which the election should be fought, not who has the best soundbite and who last swore at who. Surely it's obvious to anyone who stops and thinks about the issues how dangerous his victory would be. His past record speaks for itself, but does London really have so short a collective memory? If this is the best hope that the Mayoral election can throw up, God help us all.

But there is a serious risk that won't win the Mayoral Election. And that would be awful. I cannot believe that so few Londoners are planning to give their vote to this gentleman. He's a master politician, a charismatic but humble statesman, completely in touch with the wider world. His views on the major issues of the day are little short of laudable, and yet somehow he fails to command the devotion of millions. Whenever you see his face on the TV you want to smile, whenever you hear him speak you want to cheer, and whenever you read his policies you want to agree with every word. The amount of tax he pays is only fair, given his personal circumstances. His staff are a talented bunch, allocating our taxes to maximise value for money. He'll work tirelessly for the Londoners who really matter, rather than narrowing his focus to prioritise minorities and vested interests. Imagine four years with this bloke at the helm of the capital - the changes they could bring about would be inspirational. And yet people are sleepwalking into voting for the other bloke because they're fixated on personality rather than policies. Transport, crime, employment - these are the battlegrounds on which the election should be fought, not who has the best soundbite and who last swore at who. Surely it's obvious to anyone who stops and thinks about the issues how progressive his victory would be. His opponent's past record speaks for itself, but does London really have so short a collective memory? If this is the best hope that the Mayoral election can throw up, God help us all.
- Diamond Geezer blog, 13 April

shard's spire now in place on europe's tallest building

Shard's spire now in place on Europe's tallest building: he highest part of what will become Europe's tallest inhabited building has been lifted into place in London. The Shard near to London Bridge, in Southwark, now reaches 310m (1,016ft) high. The final piece of steel - a spire weighing about 500 tonnes which is 66m tall - was craned into place at the top of the building earlier. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the south London skyscraper is made up of 87 storeys. The UK's highest crane moved the spire into place. The spire alone is made up of 800 separate pieces of steel. [continues]
- BBC, 30 March. I thought it was going to come to a point, but apparently what it looks like now is the finished look, though still work to be done.

london mayoral election 2008: how the city voted, mapped

London mayoral election 2008: how the city voted, mapped. Who voted for Boris in 2008? Where was Labour's vote strongest? This map from Factmint shows how votes were distributed across the wards that make up the city. The detail means that patterns of voting emerge: from the BNP votes in the Essex boroughs, through to the distribution of Green party votes in 2008. What does it tell us about how London will vote in 2012? Use the dropdown menu to see how first and second preferences compare - and how each party fared
- Guardian datablog, 12 April

Monday, 16 April 2012

giles fraser is coming to our patch

Former canon of St Paul's appointed parish priest at inner-city church
Giles Fraser, who quit cathedral post over Occupy row, gets new job at St Mary's Newington in south London
- Guardian, 1 April. He's coming to St Mary Newington, where our local Brownies used to meet and is between here and Kennington tube. I wasn't impressed by his performance at St Paul's, and I almost never like his very liberal columns in the Guardian.

Friday, 13 April 2012

anna pavlova quote

Anna Pavlova quote from my WHSmith diary: 'An artist should know all about love and learn to live without it.'

Thursday, 29 March 2012

verdict on uk riots: people need a 'stake in society', says report

Verdict on UK riots: people need a 'stake in society', says report. Panel concludes that riots were fuelled by a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting and suspicion of the police
- Guardian, 28 March

divorce and the congregation

Divorce and the Congregation: Practical wisdom informed by biblical teaching
- Books & Culture, March/April 2012. An interesting article reviewing a range of books on divorce-related issues

citing chapter and verse

Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture Is the Right One?
- New York Times, 26 March

'What this means is that the rhetoric of disinterested inquiry, as retailed by the likes of Dawkins and Pinker, is in fact a very interested assertion of the superiority of one set of beliefs. And accompanying that assertion is a conviction that those who are not persuaded of those beliefs can be dismissed out of hand.'

father of the email attachment

Father of the email attachment: As his invention celebrates its 20th anniversary, Nathaniel Borenstein explains how and why he revolutionised modern communications
- Guardian, 26 March

"I would tell people: 'Some day I'm going to have grandkids, and I'll want to email people pictures of them.' And people laughed."

how we made: just my imagination by the temptations

How we made: Just My Imagination by the Temptations. 'We were having big disagreements. The lead singer had to finish the vocals on his own'
- Guardian, 26 March

titanic facts

Two extracts from the feature on the Titanic in this week's Radio Times:

a) [Julian Fellowes says] 'I think there are bits of information where the public either doesn't know something, or has got the wrong end of the stick.
He cites the oft-repeated fact that the ship only has a third of the lifeboats required for the people on board. 'It's always interpreted as "What do we care if the steerage drown, as long as Lady Mary's rescued?" But that wasn't it at all. The great steam liners had been operating by then for a little less than half a century, and they didn't sink often. When they did it was invariably because of a collision with another vessel. And when that happens the damage is so localised that they took forever to sink. If it takes 12 hours to sink there was more than enough time for other boats to get there...
'So on Titanic they though there was no point in cluttering up the boat deck, making everyone hysterical and having 56 lifeboats hanging everywhere. In fact, they thought they had too many! It never occurred to them they would have the unique quality of the iceberg damage - which was a slash right down the side of the ship. I mean, it sank in 90 minutes.'

b) Of the 880 crew aboard the RMS Titanic, 600 came from Southampton and of those, 549 perished.

Friday, 23 March 2012

can britain tolerate christians?

Can Britain Tolerate Christians? Nondiscrimination laws become a morass of claims and counterclaims.
- Wall Street Journal, 15 March

'I have ennui!'

Saw this cartoon on Emlyn's Facebook page and tracked it down. The full run of cartoons on the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal site is a mixed bag, from the ones I've looked at, but this is class.

Family in car, mum and dad in front, dad driving, two kids in the back. Kid says, 'Mom, Dad! I have ennui!' Dad says, 'Well, you should've made peace with the absurdity of human existence before we started driving!' Caption says, 'Dad eventually pulled over at a frozen lake, which represented the sublime beauty of impermanence, but he was pretty annoyed about it.'

religion and the enlightenment

I think that the reason I enjoyed this programme so much was that it brought into clear focus the splicing and the contradiction and the internal opposition on nature of great religion and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.
I've always thought it was completely simplistic to think that the Enlightenment came and wiped the slate clean of all previous knowledge. That the great knowledge systems built up by people every bit as clever as those in the Enlightenment were suddenly not fit for purpose and we had a new dawn. It seems to me that we carry the past with us wherever we go and there are few clean changes, and if so, they are brutal and short-lived and the pendulum then swings back. It's evolution and merging that brings about the eventual big changes.
Religion had a great deal to offer the Enlightenment, as enlightened people in the Royal Society, for instance, from Newton through to Priestley and Clerk Maxwell, were well aware of. In the person of Moses Mendelssohn we had a supreme example of a religious scholar and a believer in one of the great world faiths, who was also entranced by, and became part of, the Enlightenment; led, as it seemed then, solely by reason.
- extract from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time email for this week's episode on Moses Mendelssohn